Many children with special needs, especially autism, have sensory sensitivities. Because of this, your child may be reluctant to wear a mask.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children 2 years old and older wear cloth face coverings when they are unable to socially distance in school and other community settings. The guidance also states that children under age 2 and children who are unable to remove a face covering without assistance should not wear masks.
Here are some ideas that may help your child adapt better to mask wearing for their protection and the safety of others.
Tell them a story. You can find several good children’s book online about wearing a mask. Many of them explain why we wear them (to keep away germs and keep all of us healthy). Or, you can make up your own story—often called a “social story” for kids with autism—and describe how we wear a mask using pictures, visuals, or a doll/stuffed animal to show the behavior.
Make practicing fun. Start slowly and make incremental steps. First, have your child hold the mask in their hand while doing an activity they enjoy and offer a reward and gradually increase the time. Second, have them wear it on their hand with the ear loops on their thumb and pinky and again offer a reward when you increase the time. Next, you could have them brush the mask on their cheek, then face. Place the ear loop on one ear only for a while and then move to the other ear. Eventually, you can try to move to wearing the mask for short spurts, setting a timer and offering rewards.
Try super soft fabric. Try lining the mask with the fabric your child prefers. For example, some kids love silky fabrics while others enjoy burying their faces in the soft fur of a teddy bear.
Start with a cool mask. If your child feels that their mask feels hot, you can keep their masks in the freezer so they start out cold. Or, try a bandana type mask or a neck wrap that pulls up from below
Model mask wearing. You can make it more normal for a child to wear a mask if you wear one yourself at home while you are practicing. The exposure to seeing masks will help normalize the experience for them.
Give plenty of positive reinforcement. Praise your child for each step they make toward wearing a mask. Try high fives, hugs, or other reactions that your child enjoys. Make sure they know how proud you are of them for wearing a mask!